You can’t hire the right person unless you are hiring the right person for the right job.
We all have those valuable lessons that are wake-up calls. There was a legal secretary who was the best legal secretary we had ever seen. She was so above her job requirements, we felt our solution was to promote her to that of a paralegal trainee.
Simply put, she was a terrible paralegal trainee. She was miserable. We were miserable. Her attorneys were miserable. And what we learned is that her skills suited her first position but not the second.
She was given her old job back but with a higher salary range, as she was invaluable at what she was doing. We planned ways for her to grow within the field she was handling. And the lesson was that the most talented employees in the world must be put into a job that enhances their talents.
Finding the right person starts first with a strong job description. And you start the job description before it becomes available.
One of the things we like to do in a firm is to ask each person (including lawyers) to write a detailed description of what they do and for what they are responsible. We also ask them to tell us what their authority level is. Out of this come the makings of a good job description.
The next step is to break the job description down into small groups and make a list of skills that make sense with the task.
For example, if the person is the receptionist and she spends most of her day talking with clients (old and new), her first strong skill has to be that of a communicator, a people person if you will.
Because she represents your firm, she should come across as warm and friendly, with a good grasp of the English language, and professional but personable. By the way, interview all applicants for a receptionist on the phone first. Can you hear their smile?
Once you have a list of skills, you must then think of the educational and technical skills needed to accomplish the job.
Each job in a law firm is unique. Someone who works in an administrative support position has to have strong computer skills and the ability to be task-oriented.
A paralegal would need the ability to be a leader and have good initiative with skills within the field she is assigned to. An office manager needs the ability to motivate. A lead attorney should know how to lead.
We personally believe in team interviewing with three rounds.
The first round is with the office manager, if you have one, and if not, then the owner. The second round is with the supervising lawyer who will have the day-to-day responsibility of working with the new employee. The third round is with the person they are replacing (or someone who is familiar with that position).
There is then a team meeting to go over the job description and the skills and rate the person.
Spending lots of time up front makes sense in the interviewing process and the final selection. Don’t ever settle for second best.
Our best advice on replacing an employee is to immediately hire a temp to take over the day-to-day duties. Get your departing employee time to catch up all projects and put you ahead of the game a good four to six weeks. Then keep the temp until you find the right person for the job.
The days of going on gut instinct are over. You make your hiring plan, and you stick to it.
You know the job and so should the applicant. You have your list of skills, and you rate the applicant on the skills during the interview.
You check references to make sure the skills are there. You rely on other people’s interviews so that you get a well-rounded look at the person.
You can do testing nowadays, and we recommend these when you are putting people in positions that need strong skills.
And finally, you don’t rush the process, and you don’t panic. And you have a strong 90-day watch that is constantly evaluating and giving feedback so the hired person hears the good and the not-so-good.
And if it isn’t working, then make your decision right then. The cost of the wrong employee in the wrong job is too high these days.
Cheryl Leone and David Favor are principals of Catalyst Group Inc., a national professional development company in Raleigh, N.C. You can get more practice tips by going to www.lawfirmcoachblog.com or visit their Web site at www.catalystgroupinc.com.